Head-Direct HiFiMAN HE-6
Head-Direct's venture into the realm of Łber high-end orthodynamic headphones has produced some very unique designs. Today we will be taking a look at their top-of-the-line offering the HE-6. The HiFiMAN orthodynamic drivers have proven to be able to compete with the highly tricked out dynamic drivers of Sennheiser and beyerdynamic. It comes as no surprise to many that HiFiMAN have decided to go all in and try to conquer the headphone heavy weight belt.
The HiFiMAN HE-6 headphones have a newly designed driver that features gold tracings on the diaphragm. Along with the new driver they also feature a cable made from single strand high purity copper. The cable is like all the recent high end headphones from Head-Direct terminated directly to four pin XLR (AKG standard) which is excellent for all of those who have a balanced headphone amplifier. You also get a balanced to single ended adapter made from the same high quality wire as the rest of the cable.
HiFiMAN ships the HE-6s in a big beefy travelling case with a lot of padding inside.
The box works well for storage and protects well against unforeseen events when being shipped.
Along with the HE-6 headphones you get a lot of nifty stuff. You get a four pin balanced to single ended adapter and a spare set of connectors that lets you create your own DIY cable. Like we saw with Ultrasone headphones you also get a spare ear pad which is nice.
The latest version of the high end copper cable from HiFiMAN is incredibly well built. It is made from OCC copper which is basically single strand 9N pure copper. It is thin and quite soft which means that it handles microphonic noise quite well.
Because of the headphone's low sensitivity a powerful amplifier is required and preferably a balanced one. Head-Direct have created a small speaker tap adapter that allows you to power the HE-6s from a speaker amplifier. The speaker adapter is an optional accessory that will sell for $99 which is totally reasonable considering the unit's potential.
Unlike the Head-Direct HiFiMAN HE-5LEs which we reviewed here a while ago the new HE-6s feature sleek glossy black ear cups. These are more sensitive to scratches and will catch fingerprints midair from half a mile away, but they do look awfully pretty.
The headband on the HiFiMAN HE-6s is quite nice and uncomplicated. The headband is well padded and even though the headphones weigh in just north of 500 grams they are comfortable to wear for long periods. Clamping force is pleasant on my medium sized 58 head.
Just like we saw on the HE-5LEs the adjustment mechanism has plenty of extension.
The ear pads are made from velour which is soft and lets the tissue breath.
One of the things that impressed me with the HE-6s was how well the stock cable is constructed. The standard termination is four pin balanced XLR with AKG type pin layout. Head-Direct includes a balanced to single ended 1/4" adapter of a similar high quality.
The cable is user replaceable and uses a smart coaxial type connector. New for the HE-6s is the over molded cable ends which improve durability considerably, especially with thin wires like the ones the stock cable is made of.
There is a reason why hifi-headphones are expensive, the Head-Direct HiFiMAN HE-6s use a planar magnetic driver where the tracings on the diaphragm are made from pure gold. Gold is a good choice for such an application mechanically speaking since it is very ductile material and highly conductive. An added benefit is its impeccable corrosion resistance.
HE Speaker Adapter
The adapter is pretty small and it looks quite unobtrusive. On the front you have a four pin balanced exit.
The back of the adapter features two sets of speaker taps.
The taps accept both banana type plugs, regular cable, and of course spades.
The four pin balanced XLR of the HE-6s fits well, but does not always actuate the "Push" release button.
Head-Directís HiFiMAN HE-6 headphones are some of the most power demanding headphones on the market today. They require a carefully selected amplifier to sound their very best, which can prove a challenge since they are ruthless in their presentation when it comes to bad source gear, they simply reveal all deficits. For this review we have tested them on our old and trusty Head-Direct EF-1 amplifier along with Marantz 1090 and a Denon PMA-QS1 through the new Head-Direct Speaker Adapter. The source used was a HiFiMAN HM-801.
On the EF-1 amplifier the HE-6s sound quite a lot better than the HE-5LEs which is one of the best entry level high-end headphones available. The HE-6s have a more pronounced yet sweet high-end which really brings out cymbals and high level harmonics from guitars. It is clearly noticeable that the HE-6s are superior when it comes to treble extension and control. The bass is even deeper than the HE-5LEs, and the midrange is a tad less hot which is a good thing. The HE-6's brilliance lies in its remarkable detail oriented sound along with a deeper sound stage than the HE-5LEs.
The midrange is very balanced compared to the bass and there is very little coloration of the midrange. Due to the less treble roll off the midrange seems less pronounced.
Bass extension wise these headphones are remarkable. They are able to produce some real rumble without having an elevated upper bass or mid-bass for that matter. Compared to the HE-5Les the HE-6s are slightly more athletic in the sense that they are better at reproducing details in complex passages. The details are also highlighted because of the HE-6s more even frequency response.
The sound stage performance was not that good with the old HE-5LE design, however, on the HE-6s the small annoyances seem to be fixed to some extent. The sound stage appears noticeably deeper and the perceived space between instruments is larger as well. This could be due to the various tricks that Head-Direct have applied to the cups of the HiFiMAN HE-6s. Even though you are positioned further away from the music it has not affected presentation detail level. Keeping that in mind the HE-6s are still nowhere near the Sennheiser HD800s in terms of sound stage performance, the HD800s retain the spacial representation crown by a fair margin.
Treble wise the HE-6s manage to squeeze just a little more detail out of the music than the HE-5LEs. That combined with the fact that it has a less rolled off treble means that the HE-6s high end is incredibly rich to listen to without being over the top like that of many higher end Grado headphones.
Compared to the Sennheiser HD800s which we reviewed a while ago these are much more musical. The HD800s excel when it comes to sound stage, but they lack a little warmth and a bit of bass in order to be truly satisfying to listen to in the long run. In a world where one cannot have the sound stage of the HD800s and the bass of the HE-6s in one solution, one would have to decide which traits are most desirable. In comparison to the HD800s it feels like you are giving up less with the HE-6s because of their more widely appealing qualities.
Moving on from the EF-1 headphone amplifier to the beastly Denon PMA-QS1 through the speaker tap adapter and the HE-6s reveal even more details across the line. The PMA-QS1 really helped to bring the bass to the next level of precision and brought it down a notch volume wise, making the HE-6s sound more balanced. One issue with the speaker adapter is that it does seem to add some amplification in the 2-3 kHz range making the headphones sound a bit more sibilant. On a good amplifier like the PMA-QS1 this is a minor issue, but compared to the price of the solution any performance hit should be avoided. The remedy to this is of course to buy a better headphone amplifier, but that is usually a very expensive solution.
Since the Head-Direct HiFiMAN HE-6s cost $1,199 it is fair to assume that the end user will have a decent amplifier to power them. Head-Direct recommends their EF-5 amplifier which has a good reputation just like that of the EF-1, however, a more elaborate design will be able to bring them closer to their true potential, which is collosal.
Value and Conclusion
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The Head-Direct HiFiMAN HE-6 headphones provide a very interesting mix of qualities. Compared to the HD800s from Sennheiser these feature a better bass performance and can compete in terms of detail retrieval. Interestingly enough Head-Direct have yet to manufacture a headphone amplifier that will do these beasts justice, there is a balanced amplifier in the pipeline but until then people will have to find another solution. The speaker adapter will be fine as an intermediate solution and for only $99 it is quite a revelation, the use of this unit does, however, require a decent integrated amplifier to sound its best.<br /><br />
The Head-Direct HE-6s are the headphones to beat when it comes to highly musical headphones. The Sennheiser HD800 are technically better on a number of things but in the deficits the HD800s have are to these ears far worse than the ones the HE-6s have for the average listener. The HE-6ís slightly warmer more forgiving sound signature is also something that gives the HE-6s a broader appeal.
Only $1,199? What a steal, I'll take two.
Is it possible to use diamonds in the next Head-Direct model? Diamonds are the hardest staff around.
Great review, I'd love to be able to afford headphones like this some day :laugh:
This is pretty much an audiophile(idiot)'s dream.
The cost to manufacture a system like that is quite cheap and it's not bringing any new wild technology to the game here. The gold on it isn't worth anything, it's trace meaning there isn't even 1 gram of it in there <$100usd...
The balanced connection is a bit overkill, lets be real here these are high impedance and low wattage. Do you listen to headphones like this next to your microwave and electromagnet that's powered, maybe lay a bunch of cell phones around see what one lands on the right frequency.
I am can assure you the response graph on that would make a joke of the frequency range claims.
I'll never understand this market...
Maybe it's just the fact that they take it all the way...
If I could wear these for ten minutes it would make me happy.
We are not saying that you should buy them for the gold on the drivers just that it makes sense in this application.
Default termination to balanced is quite all right considering that most modern high performance headphone amplifiers are fully balanced.
My point was in general... The entire system including the balanced headphone amplifiers. It's a lot of cost for what I can guarantee you double blind testing would show useless in common use situations. These are not headphones used on stages by live bands, these are headphones in the market for the person who generally believes every bit of hype they read in marketing *snake oil* who will use them in their listening room which is probably properly sound absorbent with controlled reflections, let alone a lack of devices that could interfere with the headphones signals.
I mean it's cool to see they went all the way to the end every last touch but it's market is the snake oil market.
The point of balanced amplification and termination is not eliminate noise in this application. Balanced amplification effectively doubles the slew rate which should boost transient response performance.
The absolutely cheapest drivers to produce are moving coil designs due to its mechanical simplicity. But the majority of the cost lies in development like everything else.
Have we forgotten these are headphones... I'll bet their specified range is probably a good 15+/-db at least. Forget more accurate transients they are slewed all over the place anyways.
They are within +-5 dB in the audible range like most of the higher end headphones manufactured today. If you apply ear correction to the frequency response they are even closer neutral.
Frequency response has nothing to do with transient response, and you can find a multitude of headphones and speakers that perform well in one of these aspects and horribly in the other.
This design brings better performance to the table, like the majority of headphones they are an iteration upon an existing design. The only real new technology is the Sennheiser ring driver but even that is just a optimized moving coil design.
For those who are interested in how they measure up look: http://www.headphone.com/learning-ce...are+Headphones
The ER-4Ps are added because they perceived frequency response is very close to neutral.
Think you could do some sort of comparative SQ review between say a HD595/598 and a similarly priced top wireless set like the RS 180? I've seen a good number of threads and anecdotal comments on the matter but no proper comparisons, and it seems there's a bit of a demand for such a comparison.
Not sure if Frederik S is going to do more main stream headphones reviews. But its just a shame that if someone reviews any good headphones here, it is going to get trolled to hell.
It has always been our goal to review all types of headphones. Over the summer there will be several reviews of more mainstream headphones.
Getting in touch with the right people is sometimes very tricky. To add to the issues some companies think they are too big, and that people will buy their products regardless of the availability of quality reviews.
In my experience, where I have heard all current production hi-end headphones, save the Sony Z1000, Ultrasone ED10 and the new STAX. Other's impression can be very different to what you hear. Just for example, you will never find a whole brunch of people saying the HD800 is terrible on the internet without others bashing them saying they haven't got good gear or source to listen to it. But in the recent Head-Fi meet in London, I doubt there was over 30% there said they love it. And the T1 was getting far more praise than the HD800, which I totally agreed as I did hated the HD800 first listen when it came out. Most people tend to crowd toward the HE-6, HD800, T1, LCD-2, but I actually found my Audio-Technica pairing far more involving without losing out on clarity. Sound is a very personal thing, as much as I like your reviews and appreciate you doing it, listening to it first hand is still the best one can do.
My personal favourite at the moment is the HD800s on a fully balanced setup, but I can definitely understand why many people prefer the warmer more bass intensive headphones like the HE-series headphones.
All we can really do is try and spot the defining characteristics and see how well the headphones perform over a number of aspects, how people rate the individual performance aspects against each other is the personal preference.
Again, these are totally my personal opinion, many people disagrees with it. The best written text could do is to describe the basic signature of the headphones, and its just impossible to pin point the sound to the audience. Its like trying to map out a painting in words. I have stopped trying to do that, once tried a totally different "review" style, trying to describe the effect and not the sound itself. It was a bit over the top, but it was fun. As I do some reviews as well, getting trolled first response you get is very depressing. I hope it is not going to stop you doing more of them and I hope others can keep their sarcastic comments else where.
i've tried it on some different amplifiers, gainclone, balanced cMoy, and some other.
the sound it produces is very" good.
but i think frederik should write a review about the He500 too, its more musical, and much easier to drive than this..
the best setup for me so far is AMB Gamma2 > Burson HA-160D > SilverDragon V3 > LCD2
king of rock music..
and next best is Eddie Current Zana Deux > ER4, pure musical bliss,
and yes, i've tried almost all flagship headphone models.
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